If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking a few times a month, and it's better late than never! Most reviews nowadays are labeled "FTP:" and you should read THIS PRIMER to understand why. Also, while they're marked nowadays, many of the site's older reviews (i.e. 2010 or older) do contain unannounced spoilers, so tread carefully! Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


From The Pile: Boo! (2018)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2022


While most "Pile" movies are acquired for free (trivia, unsolicited mailings) every now and then I head over to the local Dollar Tree and scoop up a few. It's not the main purpose of my journey; I don't want to sound mean but it's often a place I can find movies I did the credits for, and since "end title creator" is not on the shortlist of people the producers will gift a copy to, I grab them when I see them here (or Big Lots, or whatever) for my pitiful little collection of movies I worked on. And so since I'm there anyway and will be waiting in line, I occasionally grab something like Boo!, which looked reasonably entertaining enough to hand over the princely sum of one dollar to find out if it was.

Alas, it was not.

The concept is fine: it's Halloween night and someone has left a chain letter (called a Boo) at their door, with the standard "Pass it on or you'll be cursed" message. However, this particular house's patriarch is a righteous Christian man (real fire and brimstone type) who refuses to celebrate Halloween due to its pagan connections, and promptly burns the letter. This being a horror movie, creepy things will now happen to him, his wife, and his two children (one college-aged, the other like 12) until they pass the curse on or whatever, right?

Well, sure (emphasis on the "or whatever"). Unfortunately it takes a very, very long time for this to happen, and in the meantime we just watch endless scenes of the younger kid drawing, the mother smoking or drinking, and the teen girl sneaking out with her boyfriend. Sometimes they have visions of scary things happening (for example when the mom, out for another smoke break, sees a baby carriage in the middle of the street out of nowhere) but after a couple we realize that they're just that: visions. Nothing ACTUALLY happens in this movie until the final few minutes, by which point any reasonable viewer - even those who only paid a dollar for the damn thing - would have checked out.

It doesn't help that it shares surface details to Hereditary (whether they're coincidental or, well, NOT coincidental is unknown; it's shot almost entirely in one house and had its first public screening nine months after Ari Aster's film did, so it's certainly possible), right down to the four family members looking absolutely nothing alike. And as with that film, the family has some secrets and resentments, all of which come out in stressful situations, but not ONCE does anyone go for a car ride and get their head knocked off, or crawl on the ceiling, so I kept wondering why I was watching a very low key wannabe when the real deal (which I didn't love either, to be clear) had enough memorable insanity for two or more movies anyway.

Ultimately I walked away with two things. One: the Madea Boo! might have actually been scarier (it was certainly more fun to watch) and two. the DVD cover's blurb "From the executive producer of Insidious" was doing them no favors, because this film's director is no James Wan, and its cast lacked anyone with the presence of Rose Byrne or Lin Shaye, and the writer wasn't Leigh Whannell, and... you get the idea. Not that I ever put any stock into those things ("From the producer" is second only to "From the studio" when it comes to the most worthless attempts at a selling point), but certainly others were duped into thinking it'd be of the same level of quality or scare quotient. And some of them might have paid more than a buck.

Oh and it barely has any Halloween flavor whatsoever so it's not even worth it on that level.

What say you?


Jeepers Creepers: Reborn (2022)

SEPTEMBER 19, 2022


There is precisely one good thing to say about Jeepers Creepers: Reborn, and that is that the jerk who directed the first three is seemingly not involved in any way. Unless he used a pseudonym, his name does not appear anywhere on the film; in fact, despite how bad it was I stayed through all of the end credits to make sure he wasn’t even given as much as a special thanks. Instead they have the audacity to actually dedicate it to the kid he abused all those years ago (a crime for which he pled guilty and served time, something that almost seems novel in this day and age when monsters are routinely allowed to carry on without any accountability), seemingly to assure us that this was in no way anything he was connected to beyond creating the idea over 20 years ago.

But this isn’t “Part 4” (so he doesn’t even get a credit for creating the characters); as we learn early on, this is more like a Halloween III kind of deal where it exists in the world where the previous movies are just that: movies. Specifically, movies based on an urban legend that is treated like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil, as opposed to the unknown quality he had in the others (outside of the handful of people who seemingly knew he was around and just looked the other way). In all honesty, that’s not a bad start for a “sequel”, in that it acts more like a remake of sorts and allows the new creative team to pick and choose what they like about the Creeper as we know him and chalk anything they discarded up to a fake part of the legend.

Unfortunately, they do next to nothing with this potential, burning most of it off in the Creeper’s first appearance, where he is born (whether the 23 year/23 day cycle is true here too is unclear, but let’s just assume it’s supposed to be the beginning of his latest) sort of half formed and barely able to move until he finds a victim and consumes him. I was hoping that they’d do a Hellraiser kind of deal where with each new body he got closer to being back to full strength, but nah – the one corpse (and an animal) seemed to be all he needed. So that’s disappointment #1, and I thought that they’d make up for it with his seeming target: a “Horror Hound” convention (in quotes because it’s nothing like a real HH con, despite using the branding/logo prominently) populated by a bunch of cosplaying horror fans. The idea of him hiding in plain sight, with everyone chalking him up to being a guy in costume, with the potential for a body count that would even top JC2 (the bus one), seemed to suggest a decent enough timekiller.

But nope, wrong again! The convention is quickly forgotten and we instead follow a handful of folks (our two heroes, a local guide, and a Youtube personality with her two man crew) to an isolated mansion that has supposedly been retrofitted as an escape room. And even then! I thought that might be an OK consolation prize for a concept; visions of the protagonists trying to escape the Creeper but having to solve a cipher puzzle to open the door were amusing me. But my optimism led me astray for what was thankfully the last time; the escape room element is a giant nothing burger, and at no point for the remaining 45-50 minutes did I ever think that maybe things would turn around. To be fair, even if they did stay at the convention and have him wipe everyone out the film would still be saddled with one of the least interesting hero couples in a horror movie I’ve seen in quite some time, made worse by the complete lack of chemistry between the two actors. The closest thing the movie has to a decent character is the aforementioned local guide, who is introduced as a creepy carnie type running a knife throwing game, the sort of dude you expect to be revealed to be working with the villain (think Vilmer in TCM4), but turns out to be a solid ally who is also the only one who ever manages to actually fight back against the Creeper during his intermittent attacks.

Also, having him take on dozens of people outside (it’s a convention that looks more like the bootleg parking lot booths *outside* of the convention, but whatever) would stretch the film’s clearly too-small digital FX budget, as there are shots in the film that almost qualify as the sort of thing you see in test screenings after being reminded by the director that not everything is finished. Nearly every shot of the Creeper outside looks like he’s been pasted in, Poochie returning to his home planet-style, and there are other moments I flat out laughed at because they looked so bad. My personal favorite was near the end, when some cops arrive on the scene. We see our survivor’s POV as they hear the cars approaching, but we can’t see them in the long stretch of road that’s in front of them. There’s a quick cut to their faces, where we can see the red/blue lights flashing, and then it cuts back to their POV and now there are two cop cars there, officers already out of the vehicles with guns drawn. And they too look they were added in later, but even if they looked Oscar-worthy it still wouldn’t have changed the fact that we should have seen them in the prior shot anyway.

It's also loaded with go-nowhere plot points, because (naturally) this is intended to be the start of a new trilogy and no one making movies anymore seems to understand that the reason certain films became trilogies (BTTF, Matrix, etc) is because we absolutely loved the first film and felt we got a complete experience (a reminder that BTTF’s “To be continued” thing was added later) instead of what amounted to a TV show pilot. That’s not the case here; the Creeper wants the heroine’s baby for some reason (even though she’s only a few weeks along, so I don’t know what exactly the plan was or why they needed HER specifically – was no one else in this town closer to their due date?), and there’s a group of locals who are seemingly part of a cult devoted to the Creeper – it’s all very Halloween 6-esque and even less satisfying, if you can believe it. There’s some mild voodoo stuff thrown in for whatever reason, none of it interesting or serving any real purpose, and I’m still trying to understand how the “escape room” element was supposed to work if the Creeper didn’t show up. There’s nothing in the house beyond the Creeper’s little altar (and his record player, where he plays a different old timey song named "Jeepers Creepers"), so what exactly were they going to do? Just wander around the empty house? And why didn’t the producers find his altar when they went to set up whatever it was they did?

It's part of the main problem with the film, which is that everything feels phony. There’s a long opening with Dee Wallace where we eventually learn it’s just an Unsolved Mysteries type segment that the hero is watching on his way to the convention, and yet it comes off as more legit than the “real” stuff that follows. The convention setting is a joke, their escape room is barren of any puzzles or props, people keep going off for the most bizarre reasons (why, in the middle of absolutely nowhere and worried about his shoes, does a guy trek a half mile off the road to take a piss?), the actors all seem as if they only met each other seconds before the camera was turned on, etc, etc. And yet, weirdly enough, the convention is filled with legit costumes? BOTH Pennywises are there, the Shining twins, Billy from Saw, etc. A Michael Myers even slashes someone’s throat in an effect that’s actually better than half the ones we see the Creeper commit. I’m not sure if any of this stuff was legally cleared, but I wouldn’t bet on it, especially considering that the production company has already had one lawsuit filed against it for shady business practices.

There is literally nothing about this movie that works, and it’s too dull to even count as “so bad it’s good” fare. I was truly hoping that they could at least make something mildly passable that I could embellish a bit in hopes of basically saying “They got rid of the gross guy and now the series can move on without him, and this is a good start!” or something like that, but instead it left me with the icky feeling that they were instead making his movies (none of which I love, mind you – I only really like the first half hour of the original and a few bits here and there of the sequels) look better in comparison. I truly hope this is the last we ever see of this series. I sure as hell learned my lesson once and for all.

What say you?


House on Haunted Hill (1999)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2022


It wasn’t long into House on Haunted Hill that a devastating fact occurred to me: it had been 23 YEARS since I had last seen it, on opening weekend in theaters. I mean, there are some reviews on this site where I had decided to watch it as “new” because it had been maybe ten years since I last watched and thus didn’t remember it very well anymore. Hell, more than once I watched a movie thinking I hadn’t seen it yet only to find my own review of it later – and even those were only about half that length of time. TWENTY THREE YEARS!!! Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn’t even that old when I first watched it.

Anyway, it likely goes without saying that I didn’t remember much at all about the movie, not even why I didn’t like it much (basically all I remembered was that I didn’t feel compelled to give it another look). But my tastes have changed a lot since then, so I figured – along with the seasonal appeal* – it might be fun to finally watch the blu-ray I was sent years ago. Alas, I still don’t think much of the movie, but at least this time I can write down why, so in another 23 years, when I get a copy on 16K Ultra Mega Highest Possible Def Brain Implant Disc, I can hopefully find the brainpower to find this old review and realize that there’s probably something else I should do with my increasingly limited time left.

The weird thing about the movie is that it sets up a more fun, trickster-y narrative than it ends up being, and never quite recovers from the tonal shift. We quickly meet Geoffrey Rush (channeling James Woods just as much as, if not more than, Vincent Price) as he takes some reporters on his fiendish new roller coaster that uses some kind of holographic tech to simulate a derailed car in front of the one that the actual riders are on, and then his wife (Famke Janssen in full fatale mode) in a bubble bath, plotting some future scheme. So even if you haven’t seen the original, you’ll probably get the idea that the movie is about the two of them in a sort of War of the Roses-type battle with the rest of the cast (Ali Larter, Taye Diggs, etc) caught in the middle.

But alas, there’s precious little of that. I think they only have two more scenes together before splitting into different parts of the house, with Janssen “dying” at the halfway point (if that far?) and Rush clearly not behind the spooky shenanigans that are occurring, as he is frightened by a corpse when he’s by himself. It’s the rare remake (in my opinion anyway) that could have benefited from copying more of the original; the tête-à-tête between Price and Carol Ohmart was one of the 1959 film’s greatest assets, and these two are just as up for having fun – but the script barely lets them sink their teeth into the dynamic. And there isn’t anything else fun in its place, unless you are as amused by Chris Kattan’s mugging as audiences presumably were in 1999 (I couldn't even stand him then, so you can imagine how well his shtick landed for me now).

Instead it’s a rather repetitive affair once Famke is removed from the group, as it focuses almost entirely on Larter, Diggs, and Kattan wandering around the dungeon-y basement levels of the house, peppered with occasional scares and appearances by Rush, who they keep thinking is the real bad guy. Alas, we know he’s not, so there’s no real drive to the mystery of it all, and it’s hard to root for the heroes when they keep trying to basically kill the innocent Rush every time he shows up to try to help them (and himself) escape the damn place. And despite a fairly prominent billing, Jeffrey Combs doesn’t appear nearly enough as Vannacutt, the actual villain, the ghost of the insane doctor who ran the asylum that the house used to be.

And that leads me to what really kills the movie for me: the crappy “Darkness” that serves as the primary villain for the film’s final sequence, where the survivors are chased through the house by what is basically a swirling mass of visual effects. It’s NOT CGI (as I may have mistakenly referred to it in the past), but it’s not a flesh and blood being either – it’s a bunch of footage that has been composited together (and not that well, though a bit of phoniness is fitting with the source material) and floats around to give chase but respectfully keeps its distance whenever the heroes are hampered by a broken floor or whatever. It’s just not an exciting conclusion in the slightest, after what’s been a fairly hit or miss series of events to begin with. A knockout ending coulda saved it in an “all is forgiven” kind of way, but instead it blows away what minimal goodwill the movie had built up by that point.

Not that it’s without merit. Again, Rush and Janssen are having a blast, so all that stuff, however brief, makes it worth a look. And the cast is kooky enough to admire; Lisa Loeb and James “Spike” Marsters show up as the aforementioned reporters, Peter Gallagher in a rare genre turn as Janssen’s secret lover, and – hell yeah – Peter Graves even pops up as himself on a true crime show Janssen is watching. Plus Combs, who wasn’t exactly someone you’d see in the multiplexes all that often (between this and the previous year’s I Still Know, it’s a damn shame that the most mainstream audiences ever saw of this terrific actor were in two of his junkiest movies). The production design is also top notch; I realize that I didn’t love any Dark Castle movie until House of Wax (their I think fifth film?) but I’ll go to bat for the sets in everything prior, at least.

Plus, I was surprised how damn WEIRD it got at times; Malone is not a mainstream-leaning guy, and it was kind of charming to look back, with fresher memories of FearDotCom and Parasomnia in my mind, to realize he was getting some of that anarchy through on his first major studio release. The scene where Rush is locked in a deprivation tank is a spectacular highlight (one I unfortunately couldn’t fully watch due to the strobe lighting throughout), with Combs appearing as a sort of painting inside a zoetrope from hell – it’s a legitimately great piece of wtf-ery, in a fairly big budget movie from the same company that would be releasing You’ve Got Mail a few weeks later. Had the script dived fully into that sort of stuff after tossing the comic tone of the first half hour, I might be on board with the film as a whole, but alas, too much of it is simply spent on endless hallway wandering with the only two people you can be pretty sure are going to survive anyway.

Scream Factory’s blu-ray comes with their usual mix of older bonus features and newly created ones. The highlight is actually one of the older ones; a trio of deleted scenes with introductions by Malone, who explains why they were cut. Many of them feature Debi Mazar as Larter’s boss, which explain why Larter’s character is using a different name in the film, and there’s even a full action scene where she falls into a sort of zombie pit, which was cut for time as it was slowing down the climax some. Malone also provides a commentary, though he spends most of his time explaining this or that effect or makeup design, not too much on the story (he also pauses quite a bit, which serves as more proof that solo commentaries are almost never a good idea). He also provided a new interview, along with composer and the VFX supervisor; alas, none of the cast could be roped in to relive their experiences, though by all accounts past and present they were all great to work with and fully cooperative – no one was treating this as some junky horror that was beneath them, even when it came to the less glamorous parts (i.e. getting covered in blood and such).

I wish I could like these earlier Dark Castle movies more; I genuinely loved the idea of reviving the old William Castle properties and using modern gimmickry (i.e. CGI) to bring new life into them, but as I said, it didn’t really click for me until House of Wax, and after that they basically stopped doing remakes anyway. They all seem to start better than they end (Ghost Ship being the best example), so I always end up feeling disappointed, as it’s obviously better to have a good/great finale after a so-so beginning instead of the other way around. I never fully dislike any of them, but until Wax I was always walking out thinking “Eh, worth the one watch but I never need to see it again.” And then I end up rewatching them again 15-20 years later anyway and not really changing my mind. Someone please stop me from revisiting Gothika if that one ever lands in my lap!

What say you?

*As I've said before, the season isn't complete until you've watched at least one Vincent Price movie, and the OG House on Haunted Hill is a perfect option. I probably would have just watched that again if I hadn't already gotten my Price fix earlier in the week with Pit & The Pendulum. But for everyone else - the 1959 Hill is the way to go if you only have time for one this year!


Tropic of Cancer (1972)



I knew it was unlikely that either of the other films on Forgotten Giallo v5 could measure up to my beloved Nine Guests for a Crime, so I wish I had started with Tropic of Cancer (Italian: Al tropico del cancro) as it’s a perfectly enjoyable giallo on its own but lacked that je ne sais quoi that made the other one such a delight, giving it a bit of an unfair shake. However, what it lacked in sociopathic (read: hilarious) characters and applause worthy reveals, it made up for in relative novelty and – for reasons both good and bad – a mystery that wasn’t too easy to figure out.

For starters, it’s the only one of these things I’ve ever seen that was shot in Haiti, a rather novel location for any film but truly inspired for what boils down to the usual stuff (black gloved killer, red herrings, infidelity, booze. etc). And it’s not just the unique scenery – the island’s history of voodoo factors into the plot. While the movie is ostensibly about an unhappily married couple (Anita Strindberg and Gabriele Tinti) who visit the island and get caught up in the murders, the real main character is Anthony Steffen (who I thought resembled Franco Nero a bit, only to amusingly learn that Steffen was his successor for the Django movies) as a doctor named Williams, who has come up with a new wonder drug using some of the voodoo-centric drugs that are available there. Naturally given the kind of movie we’re dealing with, people start turning up dead and they all have a connection to the formula – Williams’ assistant, a would-be buyer, etc.

Alas, the script (co-written by Steffen himself) neglects to really tie Tinti and Strindberg’s characters into the story, making them inconsequential to the whole thing until Tinti tries to sell the formula himself near the very end. So there will be scenes of Williams investigating this or that, or a murder, or someone scheming to get the formula, and then… this bitter couple going shopping or something. I recently watched that movie where Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston get caught in a murder mystery while on a late-coming honeymoon, and couldn’t help but think that if this movie was the serious version (I can’t say “less funny” since I probably laughed as much here as I did in that tepid junk) of that one it might have worked better, with the two of them playing detective and also maybe fixing their marriage in the process. Instead Tinti just gets more abrasive and Strindberg, surprising no one, ultimately beds Steffen, which barely fazes her husband anyway. Ultimately, like 90% of the plot would play out the same if they weren’t even there, which makes it hard to stay fully engaged by the proceedings.

That said, there’s still enough “oh, that’s new” kinda stuff to keep it fun. Starting with, well, male junk! A lot of it! I’m all in favor of equality, but when it comes to nudity there is certainly a huge imbalance as you maybe see one penis for every hundred shots of breasts. Here, I didn’t exactly grab a stopwatch but I swear we see more nude males than females, so good on them for trying to level the playing field. There’s a scene where a stoned Strindberg makes her way through a hallway of naked men (she herself is covered up) that is almost certainly the sort of hallucinatory thing that has likely burned into the memory of a younger viewer and has no idea what movie it’s from – hopefully this release unlocks the mystery for those folks. There’s also a flamboyantly gay man that no one ridicules or oppresses in any way, so the movie really feels like it’s progressive and a real standout in a genre that’s commonly more misogynist than not.

I should warn you though, there is some random (and unnecessary to everything) footage of a slaughterhouse at one point, with our “heroes” visiting a plant and Strindberg being rightfully disgusted by the sight of an animal having its throat slit. I know we shouldn’t be ignorant about these practices (especially if we consume meat, as I do) but there’s a time and place, you know? That it’s yet another scene of these characters doing something that has little to do with the plot makes it seem even more extraneous. Otherwise it’s pretty light with the violence; one of the showstopper kills is actually essentially off screen, as the victim is trapped in a paper mill of some sort and presumably suffocates, so it’s weird (though perhaps part of the point) that the most gruesome image in the film is that of a (presumably) legit death of an animal.

As for bonus features, there’s another essay by Rachel Nisbet, though as with the one on Nine Guests it plays out over a still shot of the title card, so I couldn’t really concentrate on it as my eyes needed to focus on something else after a while and, naturally, I merely got more interested in that. It’s important to play these things over photos or appropriate footage, even if it takes a little more work! There’s a lengthy interview with director Giampaolo Lomi that’s pretty good; he discusses his cast (there’s a pretty funny anecdote about how he tried to avoid showing that Strindberg’s breasts were fake but couldn’t; another first for me) and also Haiti, including a rather long discussion of its history of dictators – a rare history lesson on a giallo supplement!

The other film on the set was A White Dress For Mariale, which gets points for weirdness (the movie it most reminded me of was Gothic, of all things) but the lethargic pace and unfinished mystery left me cold for the most part. There’s a pretty funny scene where a guy is mauled by dogs (where they cut between the actor pretending to be attacked by the dogs that are clearly not doing anything to harm him, and the dogs tearing up the world’s least passable dummy) and an all timer version of the “a young child sees one of their parents being unfaithful” motif that finds its way into every third giallo film, but the fleeting moments weren’t enough to keep me invested. Luckily I watched that one after Nine Guests, so Tropic of Cancer was a step back in the right direction. Still, the ideal order if you're thinking of picking it up would would be Mariale, Tropic, then Guests.

Overall I’d say Nine Guests alone was worth the cost of the box, but Tropic of Cancer (and even Mariale) both offered some variety to their time honored body count traditions, making this an overall satisfying set and, perhaps needless to say, enough to make me hope that there’s a volume 6 (and 7, 8…). Even if the movies are hit or miss, the sheer variety they offer within the genre, plus the basic fact that they’re being rescued from disappearing entirely, make it a worthwhile endeavor every time. Plus it reminded me that I still haven’t gone through volume 4 (which I bought myself, they didn’t send it for review or otherwise I would have gotten to it sooner), so perhaps there’s another Nine Guests-level delight already sitting on my shelf. Hurrah!

What say you?


Beast (2022)

AUGUST 27, 2022


When I saw the trailer for Beast, I had two thoughts:

1. Idris Elba punching a lion in the face is prime cinema.
2. "I bet the poachers are the real threat throughout the movie and they're overselling the lion stuff."

Well, I was right about the first one, of course (Idris Elba punching anything is usually pretty good cinema at the very least), but ironically, I merely WISH I was right about the second one, because while the lion was a suitable horror/thriller villain, the movie never really put anyone beside Sharlto Copley in actual danger. Elba plays a doctor whose ex has recently passed, and he's now the sole provider for two teen girls. As is always the case, he's not ready to be a full time father, he's a bit out of touch with their interests and passions, etc. So naturally, the movie is about him proving that he can be the father they need, whether it's helping them grieve and move on with their lives, or stitching up a wound they got from a crazed lion while in the middle of the African Bush.

All well and good, but... we know he'll make it, because a studio movie isn't going to orphan two teenagers, and also because it's his story from start to finish. I think if the story unfolded from the girls' perspective, showing how maybe the older one (who is 18, the other is about 12) is capable of taking care of them both and maybe don't really need their dad, then maybe Elba's fate could be more of a question mark. Likewise, there's no way either of them are going to be killed, and there are no other characters of note out there with them, so that only leaves Copley, as their honorary uncle/best friend to both parents. He's a nature lover who takes care of the animals in the area (a scene where a lion plays with him like a cat might is both astonishing to watch on the technical side of things, and just plain adorable) and is also an anti-poacher, i.e. someone who will resort to extreme measures to protect the animals from those who are after their fur/bones/etc. Making him the movie's most interesting character.

Naturally, he gets a major wound almost instantly, so there really isn't much suspense to his fate either - a "when, not an if" kind of deal that nonetheless gives the film its most suspenseful moments. There's a scene where Elba is walking him through a quick patch for his wound via walkie talkie, with the lion's location unknown, and you're constantly wondering if the lion is heading to finish him off, or if it's about to pounce on Elba and the girls and interrupt the impromptu medical advice. The movie could have used more of that sort of thing, because once Copley's out of the picture you're just sort of watching it roll along until it hits the 90 minute runtime.

As for the poachers, their appearance in the trailer (surrounding Elba and co. with guns, attacking him) is pretty much their entire role in the movie. The lion shows up and makes quick work of them, once again leaving us only with the people we know the lion won't actually get. Copley's assistant is introduced early but then returns back to their base or something, making him a non-entity, and hell even other animals don't even show up to mix things up. There's a scene of Copley tracking the lion when he sees a gator (or croc, I can't and never will be able to tell them apart) wading past, but that's all we see of it - give us a lion v croc scene, dammit! It's admirable to strip a movie down to its bare essentials, but sometimes they go too far and as a result the movie gets too uninvolving, generating about as much suspense as a movie you've seen a dozen times.

Incidentally, the last trailer before it was for Jaws, which is being re-released on Labor Day weekend in both 3D and Imax. I've watched that movie 30 times and I still hope Chief can hold on to Quint long enough for the shark to swim away or something, so it's even more disappointing that this first time viewing didn't inspire even half that much intensity for any of its scenes. Luckily, the lion itself looked terrific; I never once doubted it was real (it was entirely CGI from what I can understand; no animatronics or whatever) and they thankfully didn't make it a mutant or anything - it's just severely pissed off. That said, I'm curious about the film's R rating, as nearly every bit of violence is off-screen (they find a village that it wiped out; most of the poachers are also dispatched under the brush or while we watch someone else react to it). The parents guide on IMDb says there are two F bombs, but I don't even recall those - it really just felt like a PG-13 movie throughout. Not that that's a bad thing, but when you promise an R and everything is pretty tame, it's hard not to feel like you got sold a bill of goods.

Basically it's a movie that is just aggressively fine. Elba and Copley's chemistry was good, the scenery is of course gorgeous, Steven Price's score is effective, etc, etc... but it just never really got my pulse pounding the way these things should. Director Baltasar Kormákur (who made the incredibly fun 2 Guns and has some survival movie experience with Everest) favors long takes for many of the film's big moments (and even smaller ones, like the girls seeing their mother's house for the first time), and I can't help but wonder if some traditional editing could have given them a little more oomph. It's the sort of movie I often found myself watching at the drive-in during that first covid summer (i.e. stuff that would have debuted on streaming in normal times), where it was generating just enough excitement to make me think "Well at least I'm not sitting in the house", but precious little more.

What say you?


Orphan: First Kill (2022)

AUGUST 25, 2022


Even if it was the year 2010, I would write this same sentence: I am shocked that I am about to review another Orphan movie. Even a prequel, which Orphan: First Kill is, would have been a surprise, as the film (which ended pretty definitively with regards to its eponymous killer) was only the sort of mid-level hit that probably makes everyone happy but doesn't have them rushing to make more. Plus that era of horror was moving in different directions, which is why even some of that year's bigger hits (i.e. Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine) didn't get followups despite being tailor made to launch new franchises. Orphan was, for all involved (including me, a huge fan of it) seemingly a one and done.

And then last year they announced a prequel with the now adult Isabelle Fuhrman reprising her character, and my eyebrow raised higher than it has in quite some time (even weirder, it's a different studio - so it's not even a case of a desperate exec looking at their library and finding something to milk). And while I would have loved the return of Jaume Collet-Serra, I feel replacement William Brent Bell is a solid choice; I know folks are still (pointlessly) mad about Devil Inside, but apart from the misguided Boy sequel I've been a fan of more or less everything else he's done, and as the original Boy proved, he's a director who wasn't afraid to make an audacious reveal, which is what an Orphan film needs to deliver.

But how do you do that when we all know the first film's twist by now? (If you don't, stop reading!) Even if Esther survived for a sequel, we still know that she's really an adult with a gland disorder, so we can't really do the whole evil child routine again in any meaningful way. So they smartly go the prequel route, getting the explanation out of the way in its first sequence (acting as a recap even though it's chronologically earlier) and putting Esther in a different situation. Thanks to one new employee and a guard who has icky designs on her (you can almost hear some neckbeard in the crowd saying "But she IS an adult, so it's ok!") she is able to escape the institute and find a new family.

This time, instead of being adopted (speaking of which - yes, the prequel does smooth over the original's gap in her "institute to orphanage" transition), she pretends to be the long-missing daughter of a wealthy family, after finding her picture online and deciding that she could pass for the child if it's x number years later. Naturally there are some hiccups: she "forgets" that a grandmother died, the real Esther (yes, that's where she got the name, as her real name is Leena) didn't like to paint but she does, etc. But of course the real fun is seeing her murder her way out of a situation when necessary, such as when the cop who investigated the real Esther's disappearance seems to be suspicious of her story.

Up until that point, it's basically hitting a lot of the same notes as the original. I love that film enough to not mind too much; it was like getting a solid cover version of a song I loved, in that it wasn't going to replace the original anytime soon but it was enjoyable enough to have a fresh take. But then there's a plot twist, at which point I full on howled with gleeful laughter at the sheer insanity of what I realized the movie was actually going to be about. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it here, but suffice to say that my fear of a new Orphan being unable to measure up in sheer "wtf, are they really doing this?" were dispeled the second a certain character entered a scene and fired a gun.

Alas I can't say much else about the movie without tipping off the twists, so I'll just say that Fuhrman delivers another chilling performance, and the attempts to make her look like a little girl again are mostly successful. Her face obviously shows her age a bit, but since there's no need to hide it when she's alone (or with someone she's going to kill anyway) it mostly comes down to how well they pull off the size discrepancy, and they're on point there. Fuhrman is only five inches shorter than Julia Stiles (playing the real Esther's mom), but through the usual trickery (apple boxes, doubles, etc) you'll never notice. There's a shot here and there when the scale seems to be a bit off, but usually in moments that you can easily forgive it (i.e. exciting stunts). And even when she's surrounded by the characters who believe her to be a child, her adult face almost kind of works - more often than not they think she's weird or (in the parents' case) believe they've gotten back their toddler daughter after all these years, so naturally they're going to have that "you've gotten so much older!" reaction even if she WAS the real Esther. Long story short, it works just fine. Thank Marvel for the de-aging advancements.

I was also charmed that, despite being a prequel, it felt very timely with regards to a couple of rich prick characters who think they're invincible. Every now and then in the real world we see these sorts being held accountable, but not often enough, so in the same way Saw VI was cathartic for anyone who ever had to deal with health insurance companies, there's something quite enjoyable about seeing a rich prick get what they deserve. It's not like you're ever looking at Esther as the hero, but (unlike the original, in which she only killed innocent/good people) the script smartly lets us smile a little about a few of her deeds. And knowing the twist frees the filmmakers to have a little fun, like when she steals a car and blasts "Maniac" as she drives along. If it was the original (pre reveal) we'd just be rolling our eyes at the idea of a 9 year old being able to drive, but now we know she's been around long enough to learn, and we can just enjoy the scene for what it is.

Honestly I have no real complaints here; the only "problem" with the movie is that it's also debuting on streaming, which means it will be shown to half-focused eyeballs. The first half's relative samey-ness (though not without highlights, such as her escape) will almost certainly have people looking at their phones figuring they "got it", and the midway turn won't register as well. Being a traditional sequel (i.e. copying the beats) is exactly the point, to lull you into a sort of comfort zone only to pull the rug out from under you, but that might be lost on those who aren't giving it their full attention as they (presumably) would in theaters. Hopefully I'm wrong, but *looks around at the world* yeah, optimism is misguided these days. However you see it, I hope you agree that it's practically a miracle that it's even watchable given the long delay/seeming pointlessness of following up a movie with that particular twist. That it's within spitting distance of being just as good as the bonkers original? I bow to everyone involved.

What say you?

P.S. Can't spoil the particulars, but the climax features a visual reference to a rather "iconic" evil child movie that's actually a total snooze (hint: the title is ironic), and I can't help but feel the much different outcome is the filmmakers showing that tepid chore who's the boss.


Blu-Ray Review: Dog Soldiers

AUGUST 24, 2022


As someone who made a quick cameo on one of their first discs (Halloween III, via a clip of a screening I hosted), it makes me happy to realize that Scream Factory has been around long enough to double dip their own releases. They first released Dog Soldiers in 2015, prior to the debut of 4K UHD discs, so now that the format has started to become more mainstream, they've been re-releasing some of their big titles (including those Halloween sequels) with the improved transfers it allows. And I need you all to keep supporting them, so that they can justify redoing Shocker. Horace Pinker needs 2160p, baby!

OK, in reality I don't personally see the need to bother upgrading some of the ones they've put out (The Craft? I'm good!) but in Dog Soldiers' case, it's more than just a mere upgrade. At the time of the previous release, they couldn't locate the original negative, and had to use a pair of actual 35mm prints to make their version from. It didn't look terrible, but obviously the film deserved better, especially since it was shot on Super 16 and thus already had a grainy look that wasn't helped by using a secondary source. Also, the color timing was a bit off, making the film look too bright at times; not to the extent of Halloween's constant changing, but enough to be noticeable.

Both issues have been solved this time around, making the upgrade justified. Director Neil Marshall and DP Sam McCurdy *both* signed off on the transfer (usually it's one or the other for such things), and they actually finally found the negative to work from, so it's just a noticeably improved transfer all around - even if you (like me) can't really tell much of a difference between regular Blu and 4K. And as is often the case, they've added some new bonus features to sweeten the deal, making this release all but completely definitive* and something that should be the last time you ever feel the need to buy it.

I already reviewed the movie before so I'm not going to bother doing that again: my thoughts haven't changed (it's great!) and my backlog is too long to be reviewing movies twice. However, I "lucked out" this week (potential TMI incoming!) by having a vasectomy, which means walking around isn't all that fun and sitting on the couch is how I spend most of my day. This means I had time to watch not only all of the extra features (retrospective doc, historian interviews, etc) but all three (3) commentary tracks that are provided. After spending something like ten hours with this set, I am confident that the only way I could know more about Dog Soldiers would be to go back in time and get myself hired as a crew member.

Two of the tracks are older: one with Marshall (recorded for the previous release in 2015) and the other with the producers. Marshall's is obviously the superior of the two; not only does he have better insight into the film (which he also wrote and edited) but the "looking back" nature keeps him honest about it. He's rightfully proud of his first film, but has been around the block and isn't afraid to be a bit candid at times, which is something director are often hesitant about when they're recording tracks before the film even comes out. You can surmise from both his track and the one with the producers that they didn't always see eye to eye on things (not to the extent of his later Hellboy, to be clear), but it doesn't get too dirty - he just occasionally notes things that they forced upon him (like the history between Megan and Ryan) and how he tried to minimize their impact.

The producers track, however, was recorded back in the day (2002, 2003) and gets into that self-congratulatory mode a bit too much, not to mention occasional references to the sequel they were then sure they would make (Ron Howard voice: they still haven't). One guy barely even speaks as the other one dominates the track, praising the performers and (to his credit) even noting a few occasions where he fought against something only to be proven wrong. Still, it's a bit too obvious that he was the "looking over the shoulder" type of producer instead of the kind that protects/backs up the director, and while Marshall went on to make The Descent, this guy went on to produce DTV junk like Cemetery Gates, so it's hard not to think that he ultimately wasn't adding too much to the table.

The third track is new for this release, from horror writer/professor Alison Peirse. Unsurprisingly since the film isn't that old, she doesn't spend much time on biographical information about its cast or crew as is usually the case for historian tracks, but instead puts it into the context of werewolf films (a genre she rightfully stresses began with Werewolf of London, not the more often-cited Wolf Man) and notes where it zigs when most others zag. She also argues that it often follows the rules of a slasher film (with Kevin McKidd's Cooper as a "final boy"), which I feel is a bit of a stretch but she isn't dismissing my beloved body counters as she does it, so I'm fine with it.

If you don't have the time for her entire track (I always forget that the film is rather long for its time/sub-genre, running an hour and forty five minutes instead of the usual 90ish), you can watch the video essay by Mikel J. Koven and the interview with Gavin Baddeley, which cover some of the same ground as Peirse (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, cross into each others' territory). Baddeley's is also about the history of the werewolf film, highlighting what Dog Soldiers brings to the table (such as the rather gaunt lycanthropes as opposed to the stockier/tougher versions from the likes of Lon Chaney and Paul Naschy) and - bless his courage - correctly points out that while the transformation in American Werewolf is an all timer, the actual wolf itself (the run who runs around Picadilly) is a bit of a letdown. As for Koven, his is more focused on the folklore of the werewolf as a whole (not just movies), going back to the "Werewolf of Bedburg" from the 16th century, though by the end he's also talking about Wolf Man and The Howling. Three "werewolf movie history" pieces and not a single one mentions Big Bad Wolf... for shame.

The other new extra is a lengthy interview with Marshall, recorded fairly recently as he runs down his entire career including The Reckoning, which he notes was a return to his roots as it was low budget and he was given the sort of control he lacked on his previous movie Hellboy (which he completely tears apart). It was nice to hear him discuss Doomsday a bit, as I have a soft spot for that and it has seemingly been forgotten over the years (to be fair, it tanked, so it's not like there's much demand for a collector's edition), plus his recollections of the very first film he worked on, a thriller called Killing Time, which I didn't even know existed.

The longest extra is "Werewolves vs. Soldiers", an hour long retrospective documentary with - finally! - some of the cast members offering their thoughts, including both Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd giving their account of the latter accidentally busting the former's nose in the scene where Cooper has to knock him out. It's said time and time again that the cast really got along like a real squad of soldiers would, but honestly, hearing Pertwee laugh his way through a story where another actor legitimately punched him is all you need to prove it. By this point the other participants are repeating things you've heard elsewhere, but the cast recollections and other tidbits make it worthwhile.

The rest gets into hardcore fan only territory, such as a look at the film's production design, with Simon Bowles, who handled such things. He still has the model they used to plan out the stage set that served as the film's main location, so it's interesting to see all the things they have to consider (i.e. how much outside of a particular window that the camera will see, so they don't waste time dressing part of it that'll never be on screen) and celebrate the low budget ingenuity that is lost on bigger budget movies where they'll throw money away at things like this and then cut an important dialogue scene when they realize they wasted too much time on the other thing. Planning, people, PLANNING! There's also a bunch of promotional stuff, and an early short film from Marshall that... well, he's gotten better since, let's just say that.

As is often the case, the video extras are only on the standard Blu-ray, but thankfully the commentaries ARE on the 4K UHD disc, so you don't have to downgrade the visuals to listen to the folks talk (this is a bizarre oversight I've seen on other releases, and it drives me insane). Marshall's interview alone is worth keeping the second disc for if you're one of those space-saving types who put everything in binders, but if you do that you and I are already on way different wavelengths, so go with your own god there. At any rate, it's a solid set for a film that got screwed twice; first with its initial release (it premiered on Syfy here) and then with its various home video releases, all of which have been compromised in one way or another until now. Took twenty years, but I'm glad the film has finally gotten the respect it deserves.

What say you?

*There's a commentary track with Marshall and some of the cast that originated with its original DVD release, but only appeared on a German DVD. For whatever reason, this track hasn't made its way to any of the other various releases, so I think at this point we can assume it's "lost." Still, something to hope for when the inevitable 8K Ultra ULTRA HD format comes along.


Nine Guests For A Crime (1977)

AUGUST 22, 2022


For the past couple years, Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing three-film sets of "Forgotten Gialli", offering a spotlight to the ones that fell beneath the cracks for one reason or another (rights issues and, occasionally, the quality of the films themselves being the primary culprits). They're on the 5th volume now, and while I haven't watched every film on the previous sets, I'm comfortable saying that Nine Guests For A Crime (Italian: Nove ospiti per un delitto) may be my absolute favorite discovery on these sets thus far. If they could find a movie this fun on even *every other* volume, it'd be worth picking them up and keeping the series going until they run out of options.

Like The Killer Is One Of Thirteen, which appeared on an earlier set, the film is loosely based on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (aka... well, you can look it up. Oof), concerning a group of folks on a secluded island who all seem to have reason to be the killer that keeps whittling down their number. This particular group is a family comprised of patriarch Uberto (Arthur Kennedy) and his three children (two sons, one daughter) and their respective spouses, as well as his sister and his new, much younger bride. And the movie hilariously introduces them all by piling up the red herrings/potential motives: one of them asks if she brought her guns, Kennedy's wife and one of the sons' wives trade barbs about their respective infidelities, the two brothers don't get along, etc. We're also informed about how the boat is the only way to get off the island, and even when they arrive they're still adding more foreshadowing elements ("Where is my underwater breather?" someone muses, forty minutes before someone "drowns"). With so many gialli overloading their final ten minutes with exposition to explain everything, I was completely charmed that this one seemed to be trying to get everything out of the way quickly instead.

(Amusingly, one thing we see when they arrive is a giant cannon but it plays no part in the proceedings. Chekov must be weeping into his gun.)

It's also a supremely horny entry in the sub-genre, which you wouldn't think would be the case considering it's only a family unit (the one non family member, Kennedy's assistant, is the first to die). They're on the island for about twenty minutes before one woman is sleeping with her brother-in-law, and another son is also shacking up with his father's new bride (so, his own stepmother) in plain sight of the old man! And (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) while he dies before realizing it, it turns out his wife is actually his first cousin. You get the idea that if there wasn't a standard killer, these folks might end up just killing each other out of jealous rage over everyone being cuckolded by their own family members.

As for the killer plot, it's a pretty decent one, though the math is a little fuzzy when all the pieces are in place (too complicated to explain here, but basically the killer should appear younger than they do). Also it's a little hard to track how everyone is related; I had to laugh that the IMDb actually lists the genealogy next to the character's names ("Lorenzo / Uberto's son") but even they screw it up, listing someone as a daughter of a character they are actually older than. After I finished I rewatched the introductory scene, both to giggle at the foreshadowing (which was apparent even the first time around, but now 100% clear) and just to recontextualize everyone's interactions now that I knew how they actually related to each other. It's not impossible like some movies (looking at you, Home Sweet Home), but definitely takes a little bit of sorting out in your head to keep straight.

And now the most important aspect of any proper giallo: How is the J&B used? Well, I'm here to tell you that, in all the years of watching these things, I've never seen that familiar green bottle introduced so randomly. In the middle of a scene inside, they cut to Uberto's daughter (who is outside) as she makes her away across a patio, grabs a glass, then reaches inside a giant wooden duck (!) and pulls it out, pouring herself a glass. Then it cuts back to the woman inside. It's almost like they realized they had a contract to show the bottle in the first 15 minutes or whatever and desperately inserted the shot in the middle of a scene to make sure they didn't get fined or something. I was cackling for five straight minutes over the audacity.

Hilariously, the bottle is referenced during the disc's lone interview, with actor Massimo Foschi (who plays the son who is banging his own stepmom). It's a bit rambly, including a lengthy discussion of a prop liver he had to eat in a cannibal movie a few years later, but it's got some good stuff, including how he was instructed to make sure that the label could be seen whenever he had to pour a drink. He also keeps the film's vaguely incest-y theme extended to reality, seemingly suggesting he had an affair with the woman who played his sister (when asked about her he says something like "She was better off screen than on" and smiles before changing the subject). The only other extra is an audio essay, though it plays over a still of the film's title card instead of the appropriate footage, so I had trouble concentrating on it.

Honestly, even if the other two films on the set are duds, this one would be a worthy entry to the growing Forgotten Gialli collection (this is the 5th volume, to be clear). The discs aren't as feature-heavy as Vinegar's standalone sets, but ultimately that stuff doesn't matter - it's rescuing these obscure films and giving them a noticeable platform to make sure they find the audience they deserve. Plus, I still feel guilty writing up a review before I've gone through the extras, so when they're jam-packed I almost kind of sigh sometimes, as watching three commentary tracks (cough, the new Dog Soldiers 4K release, cough) means I could have watched three other movies in their entirety with that time. And they could be as fun as this! I haven't even mentioned the all-timer final shot before credits, which had me laughing even longer than I did at the J&B bottle. If you prefer your gialli to be serious, I'd steer clear, but if you, like me feel that the crasser the better, then by all means dive right into this one.

What say you?


FTP: The Velvet Vampire (1971)

AUGUST 17, 2022


At our monthly(ish, damn you Covid!) horror trivia game, we always have a charity to donate the entry fee to, and while it varies from month to month, several bounties have gone to the Stephanie Rothman Fellowship, which helps women filmmakers with their projects. Which is a worthy enough cause for me to never actually look into who Stephanie Rothman was by checking out one of her films, until now, when I found one in my own collection. Indeed, I am certain I won this copy of The Velvet Vampire at one such trivia event, so it's a fitting way to finally get a taste of what she was up to during her relatively brief career.

Well I must admit the movie didn't do much for me, but it's clear that she was marching to the beat of her own drum, at a time where women were given even fewer opportunities to make films than they are now. I wasn't even surprised to see that Roger Corman produced, as he's always seemingly had little interest in following the path of his peers and letting men call the shots all the time. This was the fourth of Rothman's seven films as a director, not all of which were horror but fit comfortably in the exploitation/drive-in market of the '60s and '70s, and I can't help but wonder what she might have accomplished had her career not been effectively cut short by her own desire to make bigger/better films and the industry's hesitation to allow women to make anything more substantial. Feeling stuck in between, she quit the business, and I can't say I blame her.

But she (along with other genre trailblazers like Debra Hill and Amy Holden Jones) inspires filmmakers today, which is all that ultimately matters. And it's not that Velvet Vampire is bad, it's just a "not for me" type, which wasn't too surprising - I've never quite been taken by the vampire genre as a whole. The plot concerns a married couple who is visiting a new friend named Diane (Celeste Yarnall) who loves raw meat and occasionally does vampire-y things, though is fine to go out during the day (provided she wears a giant hat) and doesn't seem to have any powers beyond seducing both of our heroes (though she unsurprisingly has more success with the male). There's some stuff in here I enjoyed, like when Diane sucks the poison out of the heroine's snakebite, noticeably taking longer and being more graceful with the last suck, and seeing the idiot husband get what's coming, but it never stops feeling padded out to meet a runtime. Every now and then the heroes realize "something's not right here..." and decide to leave only to discover that their car still isn't fixed, and it's like they both have mental resets on why they wanted to leave in the first place, making the film feel a bit too stagnant for me. A subplot about a girlfriend of one of Diane's victims also does little to break things up, clearly just added in to make sure it hits 80 minutes. Also, the climax, while fun on its own, feels weirdly disconnected, as it takes place in the middle of Los Angeles instead of in the desert location we've spent the past hour or so in.

And yes, this vampire movie mostly takes place in the desert, and in the daytime to boot. Whether it was a budgetary constriction or Rothman's design from the start, I don't know, but either way it was the right call, because the DVD is of remarkably poor quality (full frame and seemingly taken from a VHS), so if it was mostly at night like you'd expect, I'd probably have trouble making out the images more often than not. It took me back to the Chilling Classics days, and it made me kind of nostalgic for such releases. Yes, obviously I'd love to have 4K UHD transfers of everything, but we all know that isn't going to happen, and it gets easier and easier to overlook the older formats when the new ones come in, and in turn that means closing yourself off to countless movies, as each new format only carries over a percentage of the films that made it to the format before it, and not a favorable one at that. Long story short, if I was someone just starting to dig deeper into horror history, and saw that beloved Chilling Classics set on the shelf, my eyes would pass right over it in favor of Blu-rays or 4Ks.

I've been told Terminal Island is the real gem of Rothman's output, and it certainly sounds up my alley (the plot synopsis gave me a whiff of No Escape, the 1994 action movie that - ironically given my last paragraph - is finally coming to disc after being available only on a non-anamorphic DVD for the past 20 years), so maybe I'll give that a look. As for Velvet, you don't need a DVD - it's on Shudder and Tubi and such (no surprise given the disc's poor quality, it seems to be in the public domain), so give it a look if it sounds up your alley. It's one of those movies I can see myself enjoying more at a different time in my life (or even just in a different mood, today), and at 80 minutes it's hardly going to consume too much of your day to see for yourself. I just can't get into most vampire movies!

What say you?


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